Smith steps down after 33 years
If there's one thing Len Smith wants to be remembered for, it's that the program has always been about the players. While he was at the helm for more than three decades, the team was always at the forefront.
That's why Smith kept it to himself all season. He had serious thoughts about retiring from coaching early in preseason, but he didn't share those thoughts until well after the season.
"This isn't about me," he said. "This is about the kids. I didn't want the focus during the season to be on me. I wanted the focus to be on the kids."
That's how Smith approached coaching the Tigers for 33 years. And it's how he left, handing the program to assistant coach Durran Porrino.
Smith retired from teaching a few years ago. Since then, he didn't feel as connected to the players and felt Porrino, a teacher at the high school, could better serve the team.
"I wasn't available to the kids," said Smith. "It's important that a head coach is in the building and available to the kids."
Northwestern athletic director Jason Zimmerman played for Smith when he was in high school and has worked with him for several years. He released the new of Smith's retirement Monday.
"Coach Smith spent his entire life at Northwestern Lehigh as a student and then a teacher and coach," said Zimmerman. "It's just not going to be the same without him there."
After a season that saw the Tigers reach the league title game with a solid group of seniors and a strong core coming back, Smith made the final decision to step down.
"I am going to miss it," said Smith. "Coach Porrino has been a loyal assistant and done more than anyone could expect of him. He is well deserving of the opportunity and I could not think of a better person for the job."
Smith has already heard from former players and assistant coaches. He touched a lot of lives in his 33 years, which included a long tenure as an assistant football coach. Zimmerman said Smith was more than just a coach to him at a time in his life when he needed more than a coach.
"Between coach Smith and [former head football coach Bob] Mitchell," said Zimmerman, "Those two guys played a huge role in my life and are a big reason why I am in the position I am today. When I was 13, my dad passed away and those guys didn't have to, but all my coaches in high school stepped up and served as the father figure in my life. For that, I could never be more grateful."
Zimmerman said Smith always insisted on hard work and hustle from his players. His teams might not always win, but they would seldom get out-worked or out-classed.
"Coach Smith always preached to us that when we go out on that diamond, we represent our families and our school," said Zimmerman. "He was old school and he expected you to carry yourself with class on and off the field."
Smith leaves with a record of 387-313-1. His teams won one district title and won Colonial League crowns in 1997, '98 and 2003.
One of his greatest memories is the talented 1997 team, which lost the district title game in extra innings to a Catasauqua team that went on to win states. While the team didn't capture a district crown, it worked hard and played solid baseball. That's all Smith ever asked of his players.
"It's been a lot of fun," he said. "There have been a lot of good memories and a lot of good people."